Meet the winners of the 2022 LION Local Journalism Awards

The LION Awards celebrate sustainable businesses and journalistic excellence in independent online news.

October 28, 2022 by LION Publishers

Meet the Winners of the 2022 LION Awards

The 2022 LION Local Journalism Awards brought our members together for the first in-person celebration in three years, with more than 45 winners and finalists honored at a dinner ceremony during the Independent News Sustainability Summit in Austin. 

The event also featured a late-breaking announcement that the Knight Foundation will award $2,000 prizes to all the winners. Combined with the generous support of the Carol Oppenheim and Jerome Lamet Charitable Fund and our event sponsors, we will be giving away more than $40,000 in total prize money – a record for the LION Awards. 

Congratulations to all the winners at the 2022 LION Local Journalism Awards:

  • Enlace Latino NC 🥇🥇🥇
  • Montana Free Press 🥇🥇🥇
  • Santa Cruz Local 🥇🥇🥇
  • Block Club Chicago 🥇🥇
  • Watershed Voice 🥇🥇
  • Asheville Watchdog 🥇
  • Borderless Magazine 🥇
  • Chalkbeat 🥇
  • Columbia Missourian 🥇
  • Documented 🥇
  • Fort Worth Report 🥇
  • KHOL / Jackson Hole Community Radio 🥇
  • Mississippi Free Press 🥇
  • Sahan Journal 🥇
  • Shasta Scout 🥇
  • Sioux Falls Simplified 🥇
  • Southerly 🥇
  • The Food Section 🥇
  • The Kansas City Defender 🥇
  • Wausau Pilot & Review 🥇

Learn more about the winners below and meet all of the finalists for the 2022 LION Local Journalism Awards. 

LION Business of the Year (cash prize)

Co-Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Enlace Latino NC

Enlace Latino NC is North Carolina’s first nonprofit, Spanish-language digital news organization, empowering the diverse immigrant community to become more involved in political and social changes affecting them. Its commitment made it possible to grow exponentially in the last year despite being a small team with limited resources.

From the judges: “Enlace Latino NC makes every effort to hear and see its audience and cater to their information needs. They’ve made significant progress as a business while focusing on smart, intentional innovation toward serving a community that is not often served by mainstream media.”

Co-Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Santa Cruz Local 

What sets Santa Cruz Local apart is its focus on building systems – to achieve sustainability, and to analyze feedback from hundreds of residents to understand their priorities and inform deeply-reported projects on local elections and on homelessness.

From the judges: “Santa Cruz Local has combined deep community engagement with data-driven iteration and maintained a commitment to journalistic excellence while maintaining and growing its operations. Santa Cruz Local is clearly in tune with and serving its communities.”

Winner, Medium / Large Revenue Tier: Montana Free Press 

Montana Free Press spent the past five years building its reporting and business teams, refining editorial products, and establishing trust with its audience. They focus on sustainable financial practices and support their talented staff through benefits such as an unlimited paid time off, sabbaticals and paid parental leave.

From the judges: “This is an organization built to last. The quality of their work in building an organization that will serve Montanans is on par with the best news organizations in the U.S. of any size. The entire LION community is better for their example.”

Finalists: Sahan Journal and Shawnee Mission Post & Blue Valley Post

New Business of the Year (cash prize)

Winner, Micro Revenue Tier: The Food Section

The Food Section is recognized for their strong financial position,  ongoing reader engagement and attention to “issues of labor, race and health within the constraints of food journalism in the American South.” 

From the judges: “The Food Section’s approach stands out. Their focus on bringing quality food journalism to underserved communities in the South is something that is clearly needed, and they’re also doing it through a business lens to actually make it work.”

Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Shasta Scout

Shasta Scout’s reporting is centered around experiences and perspectives of under-represented community members. Strong revenue growth resulted, moving from initial seed funding of $3,500 to first-year income of nearly $100,000. 

From the judges: “Shasta Scout has been intentional in pursuing sustainability at all levels of their operations: editorial, financial, and personal. Their creative approaches are contributing to building an enduring local news operation.”

Winner, Large Revenue Tier: Fort Worth Report

Launched in April 2021 with a staff of six and a newsletter list of under 600, Fort Worth Report’s community has propelled its rapid growth into an organization with a staff of 20 and a newsletter list of 13,000. 

From the judges: “The Fort Worth Report has been able to make good use of its pre-launch fundraising commitments and continue building on their editorial, financial, and human operations.”

Finalists: Bucks County Beacon, The Red Hook Daily Catch, Cardinal News, Gig Harbor Now, The Palm Springs Post

General Excellence: Financial Health (cash prize)

Winner, Large Revenue Tier: Sahan Journal

Sahan Journal, with a diverse revenue mix, grew its annual budget by $1 million between 2021 and 2022, and is establishing a 3-month cash reserve.

From the judges: “Sahan Journal appears to be building a rock-solid foundation that will help them continue to grow and elicit local support. They are continuing to diversify their revenue pie by creating the local relationships necessary to do so.” 

Finalist: Fort Worth Report

Revenue Campaign of the Year

Winner, Medium / Large Revenue Tier: Block Club Chicago

Block Club Chicago teamed with a local artist on a campaign offering new subscribers an art-print of their choice featuring hyperlocal neighborhood places. Block Club Chicago surpassed its goal of 400 new subscribers and signed 1,800 new subscribers in just two months.

From the judges: “Block Club Chicago has spent the last several years honing its merchandising strategy into a strong pillar of their revenue approach. This campaign shows what’s possible when an organization marries entrepreneurial business acumen with strongly developed community ties.” 

Finalist: Mississippi Free Press

General Excellence: Operational Resilience (cash prize)

Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Santa Cruz Local

Santa Cruz Local’s newsroom boosted diversity and inclusion by retooling its recruitment, hiring and onboarding, and promoting staff mental health. Their “flexible time off” policy encourages staff to take as much time away from work as needed, plus five weeks of mandated paid time off.

From the judges: “Santa Cruz Local has thought hard about how to support their staff. They have a clear and specific vision of what employee wellbeing should look like, and it’s improving their ability to continue to serve their community. A good example of how a news organization can build in more operational resilience and strength as it grows.”

Winner, Medium/Large Revenue Tier: Montana Free Press

Montana Free Press invested time and resources in its staff by focusing on job satisfaction and work-life balance, with policies like unlimited paid time off, paid parental leave, sabbaticals, and mandatory extended holidays.

From the judges: “Montana Free Press has shown an exceptionally sophisticated approach to holistic and resilient operations. Their approaches and processes keep key communications transparent and collaborative among staff, while also remaining responsive to the needs put forth by team members.”

Finalists: El Tímpano, IndigiNews, Fort Worth Report

Collaboration of the Year

Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Enlace Latino NC and Southerly Magazine

Enlace Latino NC’s collaboration with Southerly Magazine, covers the intersection of economic mobility and environmental issues in Latinx and immigrant communities, and the stories are published in both English and Spanish. 

From the judges: “This partnership is an excellent example of how deep trust between collaborators and a shared desire to serve a community can result in real impact. Beyond its immediate impact, the collaboration also led an outlet to start practicing solutions journalism, which is a huge win.”

Winner, Medium / Large Revenue Tier: Columbia Missourian

The “2,500 Below” collaboration between student journalists at the Columbia Missourian and other campus-affiliated publications focused on rural family  farming communities being hollowed out by consolidation in the industry. Ten  journalists spent four months visiting and reporting on the impact such changes have had over decades.

From the judges: “This collaboration not only covered an important topic, but also allowed for iteration based on early conversations with rural community members who helped brainstorm the stories that would be told. The fact that the entire project was driven by student journalists across multiple platforms and partner organizations is helping build a pipeline of future journalists that the industry needs.”

Finalists: Dallas Free Press, Fort Worth Report, Wisconsin Watch

Accountability Award 

Winner, Micro Revenue Tier: Asheville Watchdog

Asheville Watchdog is recognized for their seven-part series on a local attorney who preyed on vulnerable homeowners and resulted in the subject’s arrest on 41 felony charges.

From the judges: “Equity Erased” is a model of what patient, persistent reporting can uncover, and the fact that the NC Secretary of State, Attorney General, state bar and local sheriff were moved to take action validates the effort. This reporting showed how impactful local news organizations can be.”

Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Wausau Pilot & Review

Wausau Pilot & Review reported on how local leaders were aware that the city’s drinking water contained toxic chemicals at levels higher than recommended, and kept the threat of harm from the public. 

From the judges: “The publication proactively obtained the results of local water quality tests and alerted the public to the problem, putting pressure on elected officials to address the issue once it was brought to light. And working with Citizens for a Clean Wausau helped the publication better put into context what was happening in their city.”

Winner, Large Revenue Tier: Documented

Documented investigated a fire in a high-rise Bronx building, which had become a hub for Gambian immigrants, that left 17 people dead, including 8 children. Documented’s reporters found that the Mayor’s office had distributed just $265,500 of the $4.4 million fund it raised for the 150 affected families. 

From the judges: “Documented’s reporting on the Twin Parks fire in the Bronx is a perfect example of a news organization utilizing its platform and resources to demand transparency and action on an issue affecting its local community. They were able to put a face to the story and put necessary pressure on local officials to move faster.”

Finalists: The Red Hook Daily Catch, Streetsblog NYC, The Maine Monitor, Berkeleyside, Block Club Chicago

Community Engagement Award

Winner, Micro Revenue Tier: The Kansas City Defender

The Kansas City Defender is centered around engaging Black youth both in digital spaces, and real-life community events. Their stories on racism in schools sparked national coverage and conversations.

From the judges: “This is a good start for a recently-founded and ambitious news medium. They have done a great job of establishing themselves while maintaining a clear commitment to their community as an ‘unapologetic voice of advocacy.’ The breadth of their editorial is striking.”

Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Borderless Magazine

Borderless Magazine is recognized for hiring field canvassers to reach Spanish-speaking Chicagoans disconnected from the news, and for hiring an Afghan asylum seeker to produce stories for, by and with Afghans, in their native language.  

From the judges: “Borderless Magazine is finding ways to connect with people from underserved communities in ways that are not extractive and that provide avenues for community members to tell their own stories in their own language for their own people. This is truly admirable work.”

Winner, Medium / Large Revenue Tier: Mississippi Free Press

Mississippi Free Press created a systemic-reporting prototype exemplified in their project “Black Women, Systemic Barriers and COVID-19” – work the judges praised as “thorough and organized.”

From the judges: “I’m very impressed with this project, how it was created, the focus and the potential impact. With a thorough and organized approach, the Mississippi Free Press has been able to build trust with the community they serve and then offer a platform for them to share the specific challenges they face every day.”

Finalists: Bucks County Beacon, SpokaneFāVS, Epicenter-NYC, Planet Detroit, Prison Journalism Project, Santa Cruz Local, Mississippi Free Press, Wisconsin Watch & Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service


Outstanding Coverage Award

Winner, Micro Revenue Tier: Watershed Voice

On Mothers’ Day 2022, a group of 30 demonstrators stationed themselves outside of Riverside Church in Three Rivers to protest the church’s leadership amid recent allegations of sexual and spiritual abuse. In addition to its coverage of the protest, Watershed Voice published the church’s response to the allegations, and sat down with survivor Linda Shank and her mother Joni to tell her story.

From the judges: “The coverage and stories were riveting. Really powerful work shedding light on an incredibly important topic from a very personal lens.”

Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Santa Cruz Local 

Santa Cruz Local’s reader-funded reporting series on the homelessness crisis in Santa Cruz County responded to local residents’ advocating for homelessness issues to be prioritized.  

From the judges: “This is such a great example of how ‘community listening’ can lead to impactful journalism and drive change. I like the combination of surveys, different story formats, and how they approached a complex topic.”

Winner, Medium / Large Revenue Tier: Block Club Chicago 

Block Club Chicago reported on widespread fraud and profiteering by local COVID-19 testing companies.

From the judges: “Very strong journalism that potentially led to law enforcement investigations and shutdowns of the problematic testing facilities. I appreciated the use of Google Forms to dive deeper into the topic – it shows how people-focused journalism can have an impact.“

Finalists: Oviedo Community News, The Red Hook Daily Catch, The Vallejo Sun, Shasta Scout, The Maine Monitor, The Palm Springs Post, Wausau Pilot & Review, Columbia Missourian and La Noticia.

Public Service Award 

Winner, Micro Revenue Tier: Watershed Voice

Watershed Voice took an in-depth look into how a school-linked community adolescent health center is working to remove barriers between students and mental health services in Three Rivers, Michigan.  

From the judges: “Watershed Voice took a solutions journalism approach to reporting on this series to provide their community with actionable steps to a critical issue. They also worked collaboratively to access the data they needed to add another layer of depth to their reporting.”

Winner, Small Revenue Tier: Enlace Latino NC 

Enlace Latino NC launched the El Jornalero newsletter, providing news, resources, services, and relevant data in Spanish concerning the rights, well-being, and health of agricultural workers.

From the judges: “This was a thoughtfully designed, hugely impactful initiative that put community at the center and leveraged smart partnerships, distribution strategies and business principles. Absolutely stellar.”

Winner, Medium / Large Revenue Tier: Chalkbeat

Chalkbeat’s texting service provides reminders about local school board meetings, boosting engagement and participation.

From the judges: “Chalkbeat helped transform how information is shared about school board meetings — which are often opaque, but where big decisions are being made — and made them more accessible. Their approach is a brilliant civic engagement strategy that narrowed in on education issues that have a huge impact on kids and parents, and they developed new sources along the way.”

Finalists: Knox Pages, The Arkadelphian, Epicenter-NYC, The Maine Monitor, Mississippi Free Press, Sahan Journal, VTDigger

Product of the Year

Winner, Micro Revenue Tier: Sioux Falls Simplified

Sioux Falls Simplified, recognized for their Welcome Guide, brings audiences an annual, digital magazine-style product. 

From the judges: “This is the sort of product that finds the sweet spot in the ‘desirable, feasible viable’ Venn diagram. The newcomer guide meets clear audience needs, and it does so using methods (sponsorship and advertising) that provide long-term viability.”

Winner, Small Revenue Tier: KHOL/Jackson Hole Community Radio

KHOL/Jackson Hole Community Radio, created a podcast series centered around the voices and experiences of people living in a mountain town. 

From the judges: “KHOL/Jackson Hole Community Radio practiced two core pillars of product development in their successful podcast initiative: learning from your early mistakes and over-communicating to your audience and stakeholders. And the work itself is really good.”

Winner, Medium / Large Revenue Tier: Montana Free Press

Montana Free Press is recognized for its Election Guide ‘22. 

From the judges: “The Election Guide began with a clear mission and product goals, it played to MFP’s audience strategy of attracting top-of-the-funnel users through SEO, and it was able to successfully convert those new users into email signups. What an effort! This is a beautifully designed package with clear top-rate community value.”

Finalists: Oviedo Community News, Dallas Free Press, Prison Journalism Project, Votebeat

LION Community Member of the Year

The winner of this award is selected by LION staff in recognition of the time, expertise and generosity they contribute to LION’s community. 

This year’s winner is Madison Minutes co-founder Sam Hoisington! Sam is a graduate of our 2021 GNI Startups Boot Camp and a regular source of inspiration and support to his Boot Camp cohort and the wider LION community. 

Through Madison Minutes, Sam is also currently participating in one of LION’s 2022 GNI Startups Lab focused on Building and Managing a Team. He has also received a sustainability audit through The LION-GNI Sustainability Audits and Funding program

Among other contributions, Sam has delivered a “lightning talk” about setting up a CRM at Madison Minutes, provided advice to the 2022 GNI Startups Boot Camp Canada cohort, shared success stories and lessons learned in the News Entrepreneur Community Slack group, and provided the LION team with valuable feedback on our programs and other member benefits. Thank you, Sam, for all you bring to the LION community!

About the LION Awards

The 2022 LION Local Journalism Awards winners and finalists were recognized at a dinner ceremony on Friday, October 28, 2022, which was Day 2 of the Independent News Sustainability Summit

The event was hosted by Outlier Media executive director Candice Fortman and LION Publishers director of teaching & learning Lisa Heyamoto and featured a keynote address by The 19th co-founders Amanda Zamora and Emily Ramshaw.

Thank you to all the sponsors that made this event possible:

Platinum Sponsor 

Google News Initiative 

Gold Sponsor

Democracy Fund 

Silver Sponsors

Ezoic

Indiegraf 

News Catalyst

Reynolds Journalism Institute

Smart News

Spot-On Political Ads & Analytics

Ballotpedia

Bronze Sponsor

BlueLena

Prize Sponsor

Carol Oppenheim & Jerome Lamet Charitable Fund

Special thanks to this year’s volunteer judges: Alicia Ramirez, Andrew DeVigal, Andy Bechtel, Annemarie Dooling, Ariam Alula, Charles Stangor, Christine Schmidt, Damon Kiesow, Danya Henninger, David Grant, Doug Weber, Dylan Smith, Eden Fineday, Erica Perel, fahmida y rashid, Hanaa’ Tameez, Izz LaMagdeleine, Jan Schaffer, John Reid, Joshua L. Cornfield, Katherine R. Fritz, Ken Romano, Lillian Ruiz, Mark Potts, Meghan Murphy, Mesq’al Kebra, Michelle Faust Raghavan, Nancy Thomas, Ole Morten Orset, Patricia E. Gaston, Rocio Hernandez, Sarah Stonbely, Stacey Peters, Stefanie Murray, Tom Davidson, and Zack Baddorf. 

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